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On the Front Lines of COVID-19: Dr. Scott Zimmerman

April 8, 2020

When Dr. Scott Zimmerman entered Houghton University as a freshman in 1977, he had no idea that the community fostered here would lead to a 25-year career in public health and would position him to be a leader at the forefront of a global crisis. “One of the things that was instilled in me at Houghton was the sense of community—and that really is the foundation for everything that I have done in public health,” Scott said from his home office recently. “And what is public health? Making sure that the community that you live in is safe. It’s sound. It’s been protected–whether by government or by others.”

Today, Scott is Senior Director of Science and Technology for LabCorp—the second largest nationwide provider of clinical laboratory services, and one of the first companies to provide an accurate collection/test kit for COVID-19. Headquartered in Burlington, North Carolina, LabCorp is a global life sciences company that employs 66,000 people across the world. “We are so thrilled and fortunate to have world class scientists in Burlington—particularly in the field of molecular biology—that were able to develop a test about 2 weeks after the Chinese published the genetic sequence of the novel coronavirus. Even though my new position at LabCorp has numerous responsibilities that are quite different from those that went with my 25-year career in public health, I am finding that my public health training and experience is proving to be immensely valuable during this crisis.”

“I was a biology major at Houghton,” added Scott. “The incredibly strong undergraduate training and education from Houghton really laid the groundwork for my graduate work and fueled my interest in clinical microbiology. David Oetinger was one of the professors in the department at that time, and he and I just created a bond. He helped instill within me a love for science, and more importantly, [a love for] the world of infectious diseases. He got me on the track to where I am today.”

After graduating from Houghton, Scott went on to receive a master’s in public health from the School of Public Health at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, as well as a doctorate in public health from the same university and Centers for Disease Control (CDC), in Atlanta, GA. He did post-doctoral work at the Erie County Medical Center (ECMC) in Buffalo, and at SUNY Buffalo in clinical and public health microbiology. He served in the Buffalo area for the next 20 years, and in 2013, he left Buffalo for warmer temperatures in North Carolina, where he served as Laboratory Director for the North Carolina State Laboratory of Public Health until 2019.

Before COVID-19, Scott had been scheduled to be on the Houghton campus on March 17th as a featured BEST Talk speaker (BEST represents Business, Education, Science, and Technology), as well as guest presenter at the weekly Math and Science Colloquium. At the time of this interview, Scott had already been sequestered for several weeks in North Carolina for crisis management.

“Dr. Zimmerman epitomizes what it means to be a scholar-servant,” said Karl Sisson, Vice President for Advancement and External Engagement. “He is uniquely gifted as a problem solver who is prepared for this moment to confidently lead with passion, while remaining committed to a strong sense of community that was fostered while he was a student here in Houghton.”

“My passion is around serving the community I live in,” said Scott. “and again, I go back to my time at Houghton. What was developed in me there was this sense that I am here to support  the people that I live around, whether that be the town of Chapel Hill or the county of Orange, or the state of North Carolina or the United States.” Scott feels uniquely prepared for this moment in history. “For those of us who have devoted our careers to this field, we have been preparing for this event for decades.”